Decorative banner image

Continental overviews and results



Figure 4.1

Index scores, Asia

Index scores, Asia

Of all the continents, Asia exhibits the highest levels of criminality (at 5.47 out of 10). The continent has a large number of highly pervasive criminal markets (5.41), although their influence varies greatly depending on the subregions. Indeed, Asia is reported to have either the highest or second highest average score globally for seven of the 15 criminal markets. Human trafficking (7.0) continues to be the most pervasive illicit market in Asia, predominantly taking the form of online sexual exploitation, bride trafficking, domestic slavery and forced labour. The continent is also a global hub for financial crimes, scoring the highest in the world for this market (6.61). From embezzlement of state funds and tax evasion fraud, which reportedly occur in most of the countries of the Persian Gulf,1 to online scams targeting victims in many countries of South-eastern Asia, financial crimes are a significant source of profit for a wide range of malicious actors operating in Asia.

The synthetic drug trade (6.48) is also widespread on the continent, with many of these drugs sourced and produced here. Many Asian countries are global epicentres for Captagon and methamphetamine production, among others. The continent also experiences a high prevalence of human smuggling (6.07) and trade in counterfeit goods (5.59). By contrast, the cocaine trade (3.23), extortion and protection racketing (4.53) and flora crimes (4.45) were identified as the three least pervasive criminal markets in Asia, although the continent still scores comparatively higher than others for these.

Despite these high-scoring multiple illicit economies, the criminality average for the continent is driven by the extensive presence of criminal actors (5.53). In Asia, all criminal actor types – except mafia-style groups – scored above the global average. State-embedded actors, who exert immense control in many countries on the continent, were identified as the most influential typology on the continent (6.63), in line with global trends. These are followed by criminal networks (5.97), foreign actors (5.45) and private sector actors (5.25). Although ranked fourth most pervasive at the continental level, private sector actors in Asia have the highest score globally.

Resilience to organized crime in Asia is generally poor, with an average score of 4.34, making it the second least resilient continent (after Africa). Many responses and protection mechanisms were found to be lacking or largely ineffective in combating the pervasiveness of criminal markets and actors, especially in cases where state-embedded actors profit from illicit activities. The space for civil society and the presence of social protection frameworks were considered to be particularly weak, and Asia ranked the lowest globally for the ‘non-state actors’ indicator. On the other hand, although still below the global averages, the continent performed slightly better in terms of ‘international cooperation’ (5.29), ‘national policies and laws’ (4.88), and ‘territorial integrity’ (4.67). Like other continents, this indicates that although commitments might be expressed on paper, effective implementation of a comprehensive strategy against organized crime is lacking.

Figure 4.2

Criminal market scores, Asia

Criminal market scores, Asia

Given Asia’s vast expanse and myriad criminal activities, whose impact is felt across the continent, it is useful to break down the analysis into regions to provide a more local picture of criminality patterns and their impact. Three out of the five regions in Asia (Western, South-eastern and Southern) rank among the top 10 in the world for criminality. The diversity of criminal activities that take place there makes it necessary to compare the regions in further detail to better identify and understand trends and patterns.

For example, while levels of human trafficking in all the regions in Asia were high, with none scoring below 5.50, this market is particularly rife in Western Asia, with a regional average of 7.71 out of 10. Indeed, 11 of the 14 countries in Western Asia scored 7.50 or higher for this market. Long-lasting conflict and insecurity in countries like Syria and Yemen, and the consequent poverty, unemployment and social disintegration make many in the region particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Moreover, the controversial but still widespread practice of the traditional Kafala sponsorship system often leads to conditions of exploitation. Many Southern Asians seek work in the Gulf, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Southern Asia followed Western Asia as the second highest region on the continent for human trafficking, with a score of 7.56. Given the overlap between human trafficking and smuggling, Western Asia and Southern Asia were also identified as the highest scoring regions on the continent for human smuggling (6.96 and 6.94, respectively). By contrast, extortion and protection racketeering was assessed as comparably less pervasive across the continent. Southern Asia scored highest for this market (5.56), followed by South-eastern Asia (5.14).

Sacks of turtle shells displayed at a traditional Chinese medicine market.

Illicit trade in various commodities is also concentrated in particular subregions of Asia. In Western Asia, for example, the mass movement of arms, often recycled from past conflicts, has turned the region into a hotbed for arms trafficking. The region’s score is 7.43 – by far the highest of the five regions, and second globally. By contrast, criminal markets involving illicit trade in common consumer commodities – in the form of counterfeit goods and excise goods – are most pervasive in South-eastern Asia, where they scored 6.32 and 5.91, respectively. Counterfeit goods are a significant challenge in this region, particularly due to its proximity to China, the world’s major source for counterfeit products (China scores a hefty 9.50 for this criminal market). In South-eastern Asian countries, including Malaysia and Thailand, a range of counterfeit products are manufactured, from luxury goods to pharmaceuticals, food products and automotive parts. Many countries in the region also experience high levels of illicit trade in excise goods, including alcohol and tobacco.

Although the synthetic drug trade dominates the continent, Asia is also riddled with other sizeable illicit drug economies in the form of large source, transit and consumption markets. Western Asia, for example, is the highest scoring region for the cannabis trade (6.21), although this is overshadowed by its large synthetic drugs market, for which the region is the highest scoring in the world (7.39). Syria, with a score of 10.0 for this market,2 has become the main global producer of Captagon, and its economic reliance on the production and trafficking of this drug has led to the country’s characterization as a ‘narco-state’.3 Similarly, Iran has increasingly become a key corridor for synthetic drugs (9.50), largely shipments of crystal meth from Afghanistan.4 Following closely behind, South-eastern Asia ranked second for synthetic drugs on the continent (7.23). Here, Myanmar features the highest possible score (10.0). Since the February 2021 military coup in the country, drug production has sky-rocketed amid political instability, solidifying Myanmar’s position as one of the world’s premier source countries for methamphetamine, followed by the heroin trade (9.50). Fifth in the world for the synthetic drug trade is Eastern Asia (6.30), whose regional average is driven by the high score assigned to China for this market indicator (8.0). Synthetic drugs are widely used by the Chinese and the country is also a source hub for multiple foreign markets.

South and Central Asia and the Caucasus, meanwhile, lie on major transit routes, particularly for drugs. Almost all the countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus are transit points in the transnational heroin market, given their proximity to the major global producer, Afghanistan. For this reason, it is not surprising that the region had the highest score globally for this market (6.31), with Tajikistan leading the list of most impacted countries (8.50). The Southern Asia heroin market (6.19) is also heavily influenced by Afghanistan, where heroin made from Afghan opium continues to make up 95% of the market for this drug in Europe.5 The Taliban’s takeover in August 2021 exacerbated the situation and increased the country’s role as source hub, and despite the Taliban’s announcement of a ban on poppy cultivation in April 2022, the country’s central role in the global heroin trade persists. Compared to the scale of the other drug markets in the region, the cocaine trade in Asia remains relatively small, with no region on the continent scoring above 4.50 for this market.

Box 4 The ban on poppy cultivation by the Taliban

Afghanistan has long been the world’s largest opium producer, with an estimated 80% of global supply produced in the country. Following the (re)takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban forces in August 2021, a decree was published in April 2022 prohibiting the cultivation, trade and export of poppy seeds in the country, an intervention that caused opium prices to soar worldwide. However, the ban was enforced inconsistently by the Taliban authorities in 2022, and the illicit opium trade continues to be one of the greatest sources of income for the country.6 Even though the Taliban had previously imposed a similar ban to eradicate the illicit opium trade, which translated to a significant supply decrease before 2001, similar tangible results were not observed in 2022.

Tractors destroy an illegal poppy field in Afghanistan.

Environmental crimes also make up a large component of Asia’s criminal landscape. South-eastern Asia’s fauna and flora crimes markets are the highest scoring in the world, with scores of 7.23 and 6.18, respectively. As well as a booming transit zone, the region is a major source for trafficked wildlife. Vietnam (9.0), Laos (8.50), Myanmar (8.50) and Cambodia (8.50) were all highlighted as key hubs for the trafficking of endangered fauna species, including pangolin and tiger.

Animal parts and products are still sold in physical markets in Asia, but illicit activity has increasingly moved to online platforms.7 Although it is not counted as part of the South-eastern Asia region, China exerts a huge regional influence in terms of the flora and fauna crimes markets (respectively at 8.50 and 9.0) as a major consumer destination for a number of illegally trafficked protected species. China is believed to have one of the largest markets for illegally traded timber in the world, including highly valuable rosewoods, which are sourced in massive quantities from South-eastern Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is also recognized as a key destination for illegal wildlife from around the world, especially Africa. The most trafficked wildlife parts and products destined for consumption include those used as ingredients in Chinese traditional medicine (e.g. pangolins, bear, tiger, sea horses, donkey glue and serow horns), for decorative purposes (e.g. ivory, rhino horn, big cat skins, claws and canines) and as food (tiger, pangolin and bear meat, abalone and shark fins). In terms of rankings for non-renewable resource crimes, Western Asia led the continent, with a score of 6.75, which can be largely attributed to widespread smuggling of its vast oil reserves. In South-eastern Asia, on the other hand, this market is less developed (5.50) and usually takes the form of illegal sand mining, and illicit extraction and trafficking of minerals, especially gold.

Financial crime is also particularly prevalent on the continent, but most acutely in Western Asia (7.82). This extremely high regional score is driven largely by financial criminal activity in four countries – the United Arab Emirates (9.50), Lebanon (9.0), Iran (9.0) and Iraq (9.0). Financial crimes are considered to be systemic here, and this has an impact on regional instability and governments’ financial losses, as well as a broader global ripple effect. Contextual differences, however, are again evident, as shown, for instance, by the two opposite cases of the UAE, where financial crimes manifest in a country that is considered to be a key international financial hub, and Lebanon, a country on the verge of becoming a failed state, and whose financial system has been defined by the World Bank as a ‘giant Ponzi scheme’.8 South-eastern Asia is also heavily affected by financial crimes (7.18), with a large online component, ranging from investment and job scams to e‑commerce or romance scams. Experts cite a strong link between the transnational human trafficking market and financial fraud in this region, whereby organized crime groups reportedly lure tens of thousands of people from the region and beyond to work, mostly against their will, in so-called cyber-scam operations.9

Often closely associated with financial crimes, cyber-dependent crimes are a growing threat on the continent. While Eastern Asia scored comparatively lower than other subregions in overall criminality (4.80), North Korea and China drive up the averages for most of the criminal markets in the region, including cyber-dependent crimes, with China scoring 8.50 and North Korea 9.0. North Korean hacking groups, some of them reportedly state-controlled, are highly active in this field and have been accused of carrying out large-scale cyberattacks, usually against other countries in the region.

Figure 4.3

Criminal actor scores, Asia

Criminal actor scores, Asia

Criminal actors are the primary drivers of the overall criminality score for Asia, with a continental average of 5.53. The linkages between criminal markets and their pervasiveness, and the embeddedness of criminal actors in Asia are profound. Although the level of pervasiveness of each typology varies across the five regions of the continent, state-embedded actors were found to be particularly powerful. Here, Western Asia has the highest score (7.21), and is the only region in Asia that figures in the top five in the world for state-embedded actors. This was followed by Southern Asia, and Central Asia and the Caucasus (both at 6.63). Generally, higher scores were attributed to countries with authoritarian leanings and where human rights standards were compromised, and to those where direct links with a range of illicit markets were found.

Often working alongside actors within the state apparatus, criminal networks have maintained a strong foothold across Asia over the years. Western Asia had the highest criminal networks score (6.82) in the world. Following close behind, Southern Asia was identified as having the second strongest presence of criminal networks (6.44). Criminal networks in the region are involved in multiple illicit markets, including human and drug smuggling.

By comparison, foreign actors were found to be most prevalent in South-eastern Asia, where countries like Myanmar (9.0), Cambodia (8.0) and Laos (8.0) were major contributors to pulling up the regional average (6.55). The subregion was also highlighted as a standout at the global level – scoring the highest among all subregions globally for this actor type. By contrast, mafia-style groups are less prevalent across Asia, with only one region scoring above 5.0: Southern Asia (5.25). While there were individual country outliers, including Myanmar, Turkey and the Philippines, which scored 9.50, 8.50 and 8.0, respectively, the influence of other criminal actors across the continent would seem to leave little space for mafia-style groups to exert power.

Finally, despite being ranked only the fourth most pervasive criminal actor type at the continental level, private sector actors in Asia rank the highest globally (5.25). Examples of legal businesses involved in and enabling illegal schemes were found to be widespread on the continent. Examples of such businesses are labour recruitment agencies and financial institutions implicated in illicit practices and money-laundering cases, often in collaboration with other actors and corrupt powerful elites.

Figure 4.4

Resilience scores, Asia

Resilience scores, Asia

In terms of resilience, scores were more evenly distributed among Asia’s subregions, although Eastern Asia (5.63) stands out as the only part of the continent that scored above the global average of 4.81. The countries in this region performed well on several resilience indicators, with its highest score being for ‘territorial integrity’ (7.0), which can be seen against, for example, territorial disputes over the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea.

Other Asian regions received significantly lower resilience scores. Southern Asia, grappling with heightened instability following the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan, received the lowest resilience score on the continent (3.94), making it among the five least resilient regions worldwide. Severe deficiencies in the areas of social protection mechanisms, the judiciary and economic regulatory capacities have pulled down its overall resilience levels, with 8 out of 12 indicators scoring below 4.0. Similarly, ‘judicial system and detention’ as well as ‘government transparency and accountability’ in Central Asia and the Caucasus were found to be particularly low, with regional averages for these indicators of 3.06 and 3.38, respectively.

In the Asian context, the resilience indicator ‘non-state actors’ is worth noting in particular, as the continent has subregions and countries that are ranked among the lowest in the world for this gauge of resilience. In South-eastern Asia, for example, the space for civil society and the free press to express themselves has diminished to the extent it has raised concerns among the international community in recent years. Myanmar (1.50), specifically, has experienced a dramatic decline in press freedom following the military coup in 2021, followed by remarkably low scores for Cambodia (2.0) and Vietnam (1.50), where civil society and the media are also tightly controlled and restricted. The restrictions bestowed on civil society organizations are also a major concern in Western Asia (resilience average: 4.23), where ‘non-state actors’ were assessed at an average of 3.64. In Western Asia, this goes hand in hand with deteriorating ‘government transparency and accountability’, with an average score of 3.39. Notably, Syria (1.0), Yemen (1.50), and Iran (2.0) stand out for their lack of oversight mechanisms to prevent state collusion in illicit activities. Corruption remains a systemic issue in the governmental apparatus in this region and a significant obstacle to building resilience, as highlighted by, for example, the alleged corruption revelations surrounding Qatar’s 2022 World Cup.

Variations since the 2021 Index

While the addition of six new criminality indicators means that comparing averages between the 2021 and 2023 versions of the Index cannot be wholly accurate, the headline results do, however, show that the criminality situation in Asia has deteriorated over the two-year period. The criminality average for the continent increased from 5.30 to 5.47, with the biggest jump recorded for criminal markets (+0.20). The average for criminal actors also increased (+0.15). In 2023, Asia therefore remains the highest scoring continent in terms of criminal markets, and is now also the highest scoring for criminal actors, moving from third position in 2021.

Breaking down the results by region, South-eastern Asia, Western Asia and Southern Asia registered an increase in their average criminality scores, while Central Asia and the Caucasus and Eastern Asia decreased very slightly. The result is that, compared to the previous Index, where only Western Asia was identified as being among the highest scoring globally for criminality, in 2023 the number of regions ranking among the top 10 in the world has risen to three (Western Asia, Southern Asia and South-eastern Asia). The biggest change in criminal markets was observed in South-eastern Asia (+0.44), while the average for criminal actors increased the most in Western Asia (+0.31).

Figure 4.5

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Asia

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Asia

Criminal markets

All criminal markets in Asia included in the 2021 Index increased in pervasiveness. The most marked rises were in the synthetic drug trade, which went from 6.02 to 6.48 (+0.46); the human smuggling market, to 6.07 (+0.39); human trafficking, from 6.63 to 7.0 (+0.33); and non-renewable resource crimes (5.67), rising by 0.33 points. By contrast, the cocaine trade saw the smallest increase, with just a 0.01 point difference since 2021 (from 3.22 to 3.23).

Box 5 Turkey’s growing role in the cocaine trade

In the past, the cocaine trade had been a negligible drug market in Turkey, as the heroin and synthetic drug markets dominated over the years. However, recent seizures carried out by both origin countries and Turkish authorities indicate the expanding role of the country in the cocaine trade.10 As traffickers look for new routes to avoid seizures, some transit cocaine trade has been shifting to Turkish ports, a trend noted in 2021. Currently, Turkey appears to be on its way to becoming one of the major global transit hubs for cocaine originating from South America. The country provides a fertile opportunity for the cocaine trade given the expertise of Turkish criminal groups in drug trafficking and existing networks active in the trafficking routes.11 The growing role of Turkey in the transnational cocaine trade is reflected in its cocaine market score, which saw a significant increase from 4.0 to 5.50 since 2021. As mentioned, the substantial increase is the result of a shift of trafficking routes. Additionally, however, the heightened focus of Turkish law enforcement on the cocaine trade has potentially shed more light on trafficking activities that may have been gradually established over time, yet remained unnoticed until recently.

In terms of drug markets, the synthetic drug trade saw its largest expansion in Western Asia (+0.68). Notably, two countries in Asia – Syria and Myanmar – now score 10.0 for synthetic drugs, the only two in the world with the maximum score for the synthetic drug trade. This drug market also notably increased in other countries of Western Asia, including Turkey, whose score increased from 5.50 to 7.0, and Saudi Arabia, which scored 9.0, up from 7.50. While Turkey continues to be a transit point for a wide range of synthetic drugs, specifically methamphetamine, Ecstasy and Captagon, an increase was also found in the production of methamphetamine, as indicated by the high number of seizures of liquid methamphetamine and acetic anhydride, a precursor chemical. In Saudi Arabia, synthetic drugs like meth enter the country by land from neighbouring countries, as well as through the ports and airports in Dammam and Jeddah. Similarly, Captagon, which is imported primarily from Syria and Lebanon, has continued to grow in popularity, making the country one of the largest consumer markets for this drug worldwide.12

Compared to the rest of the continent, the human smuggling market experienced the largest increase in Southern Asia (+0.94), with the effects of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan spreading across the whole region. Intensified repression of the Afghan people, especially women and girls, left many vulnerable to trafficking and provided a catalyst to leave the country, making the human smuggling market more expansive, lucrative and dangerous. The deteriorating security situation along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has also increased the dangers for migrants along the routes and caused displacement of people.13

Of the Asian subregions, South-eastern Asia experienced the greatest hikes for the human trafficking and non-renewable resource illicit economies (up by 0.72 and 0.55 points, respectively). A watershed moment was the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, which had profound implications for regional criminal dynamics in 2022. The human trafficking score for Myanmar increased by 2.0, reaching 8.50. The non-renewable resource crimes score for the country increased by 2.50, up to 9.0. This can be attributed to a surge in illegal rare-earth mining after the coup, suggesting unscrupulous operators have exploited the unrest and lack of international oversight as an opportunity for illicit resource extraction.14 Furthermore, the jade and gemstone industries are reported to be the military and paramilitary groups’ main sources of funding. This is a worrying trend, since most of the world’s rubies and jade come from Myanmar, with much of the latter smuggled to China.15

Box 6 Military coup in Myanmar

Myanmar continues to experience civil unrest and violence following the 2021 military coup, when the democratically elected government was overthrown by the junta over allegations of voter fraud during the 2020 elections. Since the unconstitutional seizure of power by the military, there have been violent and incessant crackdowns on dissent, resulting in more than 2 500 deaths, 16 500 arrests and other severe human rights violations.16 Moreover, since the military coup, 1.5 million people have been displaced, taking refuge in remote parts of the country and neighbouring countries, creating further instability across the region. Widespread defiance and resistance of the military leaders also resulted in the creation of people’s defence forces, which gained control over certain parts of the country.17 The implications of the coup and its aftermath have, therefore, been severally felt by the country’s society and economy. The instability and insecurity have also intensified the criminal environment in Myanmar and beyond, exacerbating the existing criminal markets in the country.

Criminal actors

Perpetrators of crimes are a fundamental component of the criminality landscape in Asia. From 2021 to 2023, the continent recorded an increase in the criminal actors indicator from 5.38 to 5.53 (+0.15). Criminal networks increased the most (+0.35), followed by foreign actors (+0.33) and state-embedded actors (+0.17). These three typologies had a moderate to significant influence across the continent, while mafia-style groups were found to be much less influential, increasing by only 0.04 points. The majority of Asia’s criminal activities were controlled by foreign and domestic loose criminal networks, or facilitated by agents of the state, rather than traditional mafia-style organizations. Looking at the continent’s subregions, while foreign actors increased by the greatest margin in Southern Asia (+0.56), criminal networks recorded significant upsurges in Southern Asia (+0.50) and South-eastern Asia (+0.50).


Figure 4.6

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Asia

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Asia

Asia was ranked the second least resilient continent in the 2021 Index, and due to a slight decrease in its resilience score (the continental average declined from 4.46 to 4.34), it holds the same ranking in this iteration. However, while the decline in resilience was only marginal (−0.12), it was the largest reduction of all continents. Among the resilience indicators, ‘non-state actors’ saw the biggest decline (−0.38), followed by ‘government transparency and accountability’ (−0.20). The only, albeit very slight, improvement was observed in ‘international cooperation’ (+0.02), an increase in line with global trends.



Figure 4.7

Index scores, Africa

Index scores, Africa

Africa continued to experience high levels of criminality in the two-year period since 2021, remaining the second highest scoring continent in the world at 5.25 out of 10, coming in after Asia. The score, as in 2021, appears to be mainly driven by criminal actors, which, with a score of 5.45, raise the average for criminality in Africa. Criminal markets scored a lower 5.05.

In terms of regional dynamics, East Africa is the highest scoring region on the continent for overall criminality (5.88), leading the list for both criminal markets (5.52) and criminal actors (6.23), followed by West Africa (at 5.44). East Africa ranks among the top five regions for criminality in the world, as a hotbed of illicit activities and a stronghold for criminal actors, whose influence is aggravated by prolonged conflicts that make the region more vulnerable to the threat of organized crime. As for criminal markets, the region is acutely affected by human trafficking and arms trafficking, both at 7.78, the highest regional averages in the world for these types of crimes. These extremely high scores reflect how these two markets are generally predominant and widespread across the region, albeit with some high concentrations in particular countries.

Box 7 The Wagner Group

The Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, has established operations in a number of African countries, including the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique and Madagascar. It provides military services, including direct paramilitary assistance and training programmes, to weakened autocratic governments in need of support in cracking down on insurgencies, rebellions and other civil unrest. Notwithstanding, the characterization of the Wagner Group as a foreign criminal actor under the Index is not necessarily connected to its mercenary activities, despite allegations pertaining to violations of international sanctions, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.

The group is also known to take advantage of the economic and political fragilities of the African countries within which it operates, exploiting the rich renewable and non-renewable resources of these countries through opaque businesses allowed by concessions and bilateral agreements, which are granted by certain African governments in exchange for Wagner’s mercenary muscle. The group is linked to a network of private entities operating in several sectors, including timber and mining, through which it expands its role as a mercenary group.

These businesses, combined with widespread corruption in the parts of Africa where it operates, reportedly enable Wagner to profit from illicit economies, especially flora and non-renewable resource crimes, alongside its legal activities. Some economic entities linked to the Wagner Group are accused of illegal exploitation of mineral sources and smuggling. Although criminal actors are normally perceived as violent gangs, actor types have seen a change in recent years with the establishment of modern organized crime groups that are embedded within legal economies.18 Although it is technically a legal enterprise operating in licit markets, the involvement of the Wagner Group in such criminal markets makes it eligible to be characterized as a foreign criminal actor operating in Africa.

Figure 4.8

Criminal market scores, Africa

Criminal market scores, Africa

The most pervasive criminal market on the continent continues to be human trafficking, with a score of 6.06. The prevalence of this criminal practice is correlated to various factors, including the numerous ongoing conflicts in Africa, the economic push factors that leave people vulnerable to trafficking and the involvement of state-embedded actors in facilitating these activities. In the case of human trafficking, Eritrea and South Sudan were among the highest scoring countries under the market, at 9.0 and 8.50, respectively. Military conscription continues to be a systemic and corrosive practice in Eritrea, breeding resentment and significant outward migration, which fuels the human smuggling market. This phenomenon has also been aggravated by the civil war in neighbouring Ethiopia, with the government ordering mass mobilization in an attempt to bolster the army and increase security.19 On the other hand, South Sudan has a more diverse market for human trafficking, with practices ranging from forced labour to domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. However, the main issue in the country concerns children, who continue to be recruited as soldiers, with thousands of minors estimated to be in combat roles, or who are employed in construction, mining and agriculture, where they are subject to exploitative situations.

As was found to be generally the case worldwide, financial crimes were prevalent in Africa. This market was assessed as the second most pervasive, with an average continental score of 5.95. High scores were recorded for financial crimes across the continent, including widespread incidents of financial fraud, tax evasion, embezzlement and misuse of public funds by state-embedded actors. The continent saw high levels of cyber-enabled financial fraud perpetrated by highly organized criminal syndicates such as Black Axe, which is of West African origin but with a global footprint. Black Axe has been responsible for online romance scams, peddling fictitious romantic relationships to defraud victims of money and steal their personal and financial data.20

The North Africa region had the highest score (7.83) for financial crimes. This was also the highest scoring region for financial crimes in the world, closely followed by Western Asia (7.82) and South-eastern Asia (7.18). Here, this kind of illicit economy was assessed as having a severe influence in all countries in the subregion (with scores ranging from 8.0 to 9.50), except for Morocco (whose score, at 7.50, is on the cusp between ‘significant influence’ and ‘severe influence’) and Mauritania (6.0). Libya, however, hoisted the regional average, with a score of 9.50. This is attributable to very high levels of public sector fraud, which is rife in the country and involves billions of dollars allegedly going missing through public contracts, and the engagement of high-level officials and bank employees in corruption schemes through which armed groups and their warlords have gained access to state funding. Tax evasion by local and foreign enterprises is also a chronic problem for the Libyan economy, compounded by the fact that the state has been weakened since the revolution.

With an average score of 5.77, arms trafficking is the third most pervasive criminal market in Africa, caused largely by the redirection of arms procured by governments in zones of prolonged conflict, such as Central and East Africa. The latter is the highest scoring region in the world for arms trafficking, with a score of 7.78, which is an increase of 0.67 points since the last iteration of the Index. With regard to arms trafficking, all countries in East Africa scored either 7.0 or above, except for Tanzania (6.0), meaning that the market is highly pervasive everywhere in the region, albeit with certain contextual differences. Sudan (9.0), Somalia (9.0), Ethiopia (8.50) and Djibouti (7.50) have some of the highest arms trafficking scores in East Africa, driven largely by armed and ethnic conflicts.

Somalia continues to be a critical hub for the smuggling of illegal weapons, with transnational links and ties with other illegal markets, such as piracy and drug trafficking. The illicit flows of arms from Yemen to Somalia increased in the reporting period, as did the number of illegal weapons circulating in the country, ranging from pistols to machine guns. Firearms are commonly trafficked by clan militias, the extremist group al-Shabaab, governmental groups and transnational trafficking networks based in the north, particularly Puntland and eastern Somaliland.

Ethiopia (7.0) recorded a notable increase in arms trafficking, a function of the civil war in Tigray, which has reportedly led to an escalation in small arms and light weapons trafficked in the region and caused spillage of firearms from war-torn areas into other parts of the country, specifically Addis Ababa.

In Sudan, multidirectional arms trafficking remains a problem, with external and internal actors continuing to supply weapons to the country, and little transparency or accountability in how state and paramilitary weapons are managed or distributed.

Research by INTERPOL in Central Africa has also found that explosive precursor chemicals and initiators are being used by non-state armed groups to manufacture explosives used in illegal mining and blast fishing.21 Meanwhile, several Central African countries, such as the DRC (9.0), the Central African Republic (9.0), Chad (8.50) and Cameroon (7.50), have been affected by the trafficking of explosives for use in armed conflict by non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa in the Lake Chad basin, and rebel groups Retour, Réclamation et Réhabilitation and the Allied Democratic Forces.

Levels of environmental crime continued to increase on the continent, with countries in Central Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa scoring highly for flora and fauna crimes. Non-renewable resource criminal markets continue to be highly pervasive in countries such as the Central African Republic (10.0) and the DRC (9.50). As a source country for gold, the illicit trade is widespread in the DRC, where both pro-government and rebel militias profit from the market. More than 90% of the DRC’s gold is smuggled to neighbouring countries in the region, including Uganda and Rwanda, where it is then often refined and exported to international markets. The continent also sees significant levels of illicit wildlife trade, with East Africa scoring 5.94 for fauna crimes, followed by West Africa (5.83).

The heroin trade, and extortion and protection racketeering were identified as criminal markets that have a much lower presence on the continent, with scores of 3.97 and 3.99, respectively, though the heroin trade increased slightly, by 0.16 points. The least pervasive market on the continent was cyber-dependent crimes, with a score of 3.59. This may be a result of the continent having relatively low internet penetration rates due to high internet costs.

Figure 4.9

Criminal actor scores, Africa

Criminal actor scores, Africa

State-embedded actors remained the most dominant agents in facilitating illicit economies and inhibiting resilience to organized crime in Africa, with a continental score of 7.12, followed by criminal networks (6.11). The third place is retained by foreign actors, which, despite scoring lower than state-embedded actors and criminal networks, were found to have increased the most in influence, with a 0.28 point jump from 2021 (to 5.91). This steep rise can be attributed to activities by the Wagner Group (see Box 7) and human trafficking syndicates operating on the continent.

There is evidence of individuals engaged in the private sector who operate independently or collude with state-embedded actors in perpetuating criminality across the continent, using their enabling power in facilitating money laundering and illicit financial flows. However, their influence was found to be lower than that exerted by the other criminal actor typologies, with the exception of mafia-style groups. Private sector actors scored 4.80, ranking fourth, just above mafia-style groups, which, with a score of 3.31, were found to be the lowest scoring criminal actor type on the continent, despite a 0.20 increase since 2021.

In exploring the kinds of criminal groups operating on the continent, three African regions were ranked as first, second and third highest in the world for the state-embedded actors category: Central Africa (7.68), North Africa (7.67) and East Africa (7.44). In Central Africa, corruption tends to be an extensive problem and plays an essential role in the conflict dynamics and political environments of countries in the region, to an extent that the state apparatus is completely infiltrated and little room is left for others to enter criminal markets without the endorsement or authorization of state criminals. With the exception of Rwanda (5.0) and São Tomé and Príncipe (3.0), every country in the region scored 8.0, 8.50 or 9.0, which all indicate severe influence.

Box 8 Why South Africa is an outlier

Regional readings of the Index, especially for the purpose of regional comparisons, necessitate the consideration of country-specific nuances, which can skew the overall picture.

South Africa is a case in point. It is one of only three African countries in the high crime–high resilience category, along with Nigeria and Senegal (see Section 6). Unlike the latter two, however, both criminality and resilience scores have worsened in South Africa. With a high criminality score of 7.18, the country is an undeniable criminality outlier within Southern Africa, tangibly bringing up the average criminality score for the region. Yet, against a background of a decade-long increasing criminality, erosion of critical infrastructure and undermining of democratic processes through organized corruption and violence for hire, resilience to the impact of organized crime in the country is also high. South Africa boasts a number of pervasive criminal markets, heightened by the influence of criminal actors, especially state-embedded actors – responsible for years of state capture – and criminal networks that are highly interconnected.

Nevertheless, in terms of resilience (5.63), South Africa also scores the highest in the Southern Africa region, driven by the efforts of non-state actors to resist organized crime, robust national policies and laws, and strong economic regulatory capacity. These resilience building blocks, however, came under strain in 2022, which saw overall resilience fall.

A black African female farmer examines crops decimated by an invasive moth species.

Criminal networks and foreign actors also have a strong grip on the continent, with East Africa and West Africa among the three highest scoring regions in the world for both indicators. With regard to foreign actors, investigations into the activities of the Wagner Group have shown that the mercenary organization has increasingly become involved in many illicit economies. The group has also been known to engage in the smuggling of gold and other mineral resources in countries in Central Africa, such as the Central African Republic, which has a foreign actors score of 9.0. Within East Africa, the Wagner Group has gained significant political influence in Sudan (8.0), where it has developed extensive commercial interests as well as playing a mercenary role.22

Figure 4.10

Resilience scores, Africa

Resilience scores, Africa

In terms of resilience, Africa was again the lowest scoring continent, at 3.85, although it has seen a marginal improvement since the 2021 iteration (+0.05).

The highest scoring indicators on the continent were ‘international cooperation’ (5.03), ‘national policies and laws’ (4.72) and ‘territorial integrity’ (4.21). While implementation may be lacking, African countries have largely enacted national laws and policies to combat organized crime. A significant 51 out of the 54 countries on the continent have ratified the UNTOC and its accompanying protocols. However, while this may have been an indication of some political will to combat transnational organized crime at the time that African countries ratified the UNTOC (36 countries ratified the UNTOC within the first five years of its adoption, and 15 countries ratified the UNTOC between 2005 and 2014), the data suggests that over the years, these countries have not been able to fully implement the Convention in an attempt to limit criminality and become more resilient to organized crime.23 This statement remains valid, even though ‘international cooperation’, whose score is in part based on the ratification and implementation of international treaties on countering organized crime, was identified as the resilience indicator that had improved the most on the continent (+0.24).

The challenge is that many countries in Africa show deficiencies in implementing the Convention for several reasons, including ineffective law enforcement, the absence of a free civil society corpus to provide support, poor institutional capacity, corruption and the growing influence of state-embedded actors.24 The space for civil society has continued to shrink in many countries across Africa, and this has had an impact on resilience indicators, such as ‘victim and witness support’ (scoring 2.84, the lowest average in the world for this indicator) and ‘prevention’ (3.25). Research has shown that these are key areas where civil society engages the most in its efforts to combat organized crime, trying to provide alternatives to inefficient state-led measures. This is evidenced by the high number of social and preventive programmes spearheaded by civil society initiatives that seek to mitigate factors that draw individuals to crime, such as poor economic indicators and lack of opportunities. In line with this finding, ‘government transparency and accountability’ is also among the lowest resilience indicators on the continent, at 3.31.

North Africa, East Africa and Central Africa continued to feature as the three lowest scoring regions in the world in terms of resilience levels, at 3.67, 3.46 and 3.23, respectively. The Index assessment takes into account the existence and effectiveness of resilience measures, as well as respect for fundamental human rights in their implementation, meaning that such low regional averages suggest poor performances in all these areas.

Variations since the 2021 Index

Africa was found to experience an increase in overall criminality over the two-year period. However, that increase is slightly lower when the newer criminal indicators are included in the equation, meaning that they moderately lower the average for criminal actors and markets (+0.08, opposed to an increase of 0.23 if we exclude the newly criminal indicators).

These findings are not surprising considering that, for example, the new cyber-dependent crimes indicator is not a pervasive market on the continent due to high costs associated with internet connectivity, and outdated practices by governments that have not digitalized a lot of their instruments, thereby making them less accessible and attractive to cybercriminals. While the pandemic may have led to increased connectivity levels and reliance on cyber technologies to some extent, Africa has still been slow to digitalize.

One notable exception to this dynamic, however, is seen in the scores for financial crimes. The Index found that this market is particularly pervasive, with a continental average of 5.95 and particularly high levels of penetration in certain regions, such as North Africa, pulling up the average score in that region to 7.83. On the whole, however, the original 10 criminal markets continue to exert a strong impact on the continent, and these have intensified in most regions.

Figure 4.11

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Africa

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Africa

Criminal markets

Comparing 2021 and 2023 averages, and including the new indicators, despite having the second highest overall criminal markets score in the world, Africa is the continent that saw the smallest increase in criminal market pervasiveness (+0.11). A similar result emerged with regard to the change in criminal actors (+0.05). Of all the continents, only Oceania had a smaller increase in its criminal actors score.

Looking more closely at the criminal markets reveals some interesting findings. In particular, the cocaine trade, despite its low continental average score (it is the fourth lowest scoring criminal market in Africa in 2023), saw the largest increase (+0.42). Even though West Africa still drives the continental average, scoring the highest for this criminal market, the biggest growth in terms of impact of the cocaine trade was observed in North Africa (+0.59) and Southern Africa (+0.58) in the reporting period. Nevertheless, West Africa, perhaps unsurprisingly, also saw a notable increase, recording a +0.47 rise in 2023 from 2021.

Box 9 Increased cocaine trade in Africa

Cocaine trafficking has never been particularly pervasive in Africa, generally averaging lower than is the case for other criminal markets. Nevertheless, the scores would suggest that African states have been affected by changes observed in transnational cocaine trafficking patterns in recent years. There has been a transition in destination markets, where organized crime groups are increasingly targeting consumer markets other than the US.25 This shift has translated into increased use of African ports and countries by traffickers as indirect transit hubs for other markets. These African hubs and trans-shipment points are favoured because of lax customs controls, poor law enforcement capacity and political instability. The continent’s rise in popularity as a transit route has also resulted in increased availability of cocaine and consequent rising domestic consumption.

The human smuggling market saw the second largest increase on the continent (+0.41). Two regions that were assessed as having the highest scores in the world for this market, namely East Africa (7.39) and North Africa (7.33), also recorded the highest increases on the continent (+0.50 and +0.75, respectively). The high average score for North Africa can be seen in the fact that the score for each country in the region increased. Libya had the highest jump (from 8.0 to 9.50). This can be explained by the relative stability prevailing in western Libya, enabling mobility and logistical room for smugglers, and the return of more sophisticated networks focusing on developing complex but higher-value routes. Human smuggling is associated with high levels of violence, high death rates, extortion, forced labour and sexual exploitation. In the subregion, Tunisia also recorded a notable increase in the smuggling market (from 7.0 to 8.0) as the country’s borders became more porous. Its territory has received large flows from Algeria and smuggling activities within the country have increased, with the majority of people being smuggled out of Tunisia being Tunisian nationals.

Looking at which criminal markets increased the most is important in guiding policymakers in the prioritization of their agendas. It is also worthwhile, however, analyzing those indicators that have recorded minor changes. Interestingly, human trafficking in Africa, despite remaining the highest scoring market on the continent, is the one that saw the smallest increase since 2021 (+0.13). This finding suggests that, although human trafficking continues to be highly prevalent all over the continent, it has also remained quite stable over time in its high levels of pervasiveness.

Criminal actors

All criminal actor types in Africa strengthened their influence in 2023. Foreign actors increased their score the most (+0.28), followed by state-embedded actors (+0.23), mafia-style groups (+0.20) and criminal networks (+0.15). Despite the moderate increase, mafia-style groups remained the lowest scoring actor type across Africa. Additionally, although foreign actors significantly expanded on the continent in the reporting period, state-embedded actors continue to rank at the top of the list, still scoring much higher than the other actor indicators, at 7.12.


Figure 4.12

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Africa

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Africa

Africa has the lowest average in the world for resilience levels, and its overall improvement in that field was very marginal, increasing by just +0.05 points since 2021. On the whole, where countries stepped up their efforts was in ‘international cooperation’ (+0.24), ‘national policies and laws’ (+0.11), and ‘prevention’ (+0.17). If the first two increases are more in line with global trends and convey the idea that countries are more focused on engaging in institutional forms of resilience rather than favouring a broader, more holistic, approach, the improvement in prevention measures represents a positive signal. Enhancing preventative initiatives is a fundamental step towards a serious and more comprehensive commitment in the fight against organized crime, as it aims to build safeguards to protect against criminality by effectuating behavioural changes in vulnerable groups and reducing the demand for illicit activities to take place.

The converse, however, applies to the role of ‘non-state actors’ on the continent, which declined (−0.07). While the margin of decline was smaller than the case in other continents (the exception was Oceania, the only region that recorded an increase for this resilience indicator), it still indicates a negative trend, characterized by shrinking space for civil society. Together with non-state actors, the other resilience indicators that reportedly worsened in Africa over the last two-year period were ‘judicial system and detention’ (−0.04), ‘territorial integrity’ (−0.03) and ‘law enforcement’ (−0.03).



Figure 4.13

Index scores, Americas

Index scores, Americas

In 2022, the Americas experienced a significant increase in levels of criminality, affecting all regions of the continent. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, strict lockdown measures and restrictions on mobility had disrupted illicit activities and reduced income from drug sales. But organized crime groups were quick to adapt, shifting their focus to other criminal activities, including extortion, cybercrime and the black-market trade in essential goods.26 As the pandemic restrictions were eased and supply chains reopened, criminal actors in the Americas resumed their expansion of more traditional activities linked to the drug trade, while holding onto the new markets they had captured during the pandemic. The countries of the Americas have since become fertile ground for a broad spectrum of illicit activities, as reflected in the individual Index scores for criminal markets and criminal actors.

In terms of criminality, the Americas is the third most affected continent, after Asia and Africa, respectively, with an average score of 5.20. Regionally, Central America was identified as having the highest average criminality score (6.28), followed by South America (5.94). All of the criminal markets and actors found in the Americas are present in several countries, underscoring the reach of these markets and the continent’s importance to global illicit trade. These interconnected and transnational criminal markets exploit the challenges to resilience present in each country, taking advantage of situations of weak leadership and governance.

Figure 4.14

Criminal market scores, Americas

Criminal market scores, Americas

When considering the average scores for all criminal markets, it is clear that the Americas have emerged as a hub for global illicit markets, with its regions consistently featuring among the top three globally for 11 of the 15 markets. Furthermore, most of the original 10 criminal markets have expanded since the last iteration of the Index. However, while average scores provide valuable insights into criminal activities carried out within specific countries, they may not fully capture the complexities of the link between more localized instances of criminality and how these countries are caught up in global illicit supply chains as origin, transit or destination points. Therefore, to establish a comprehensive understanding of the global influence of criminality in the Americas, it is necessary to delve into these criminal markets in greater detail and outline the contextual specificities that elucidate the intricate connections between them.

The 2023 Index scores show that the Americas continue to dominate the global cocaine trade as the primary source market for the drug. While coca cultivation is mainly concentrated in the northern and western regions of South America, other regions of the Americas serve as important transit zones for the plant’s most popular alkaloid. The average score for the cocaine market in the Americas is 7.44 (+0.30), making it the most pervasive worldwide.

Within the Americas, the cocaine market is most prevalent in South America, which has a regional score of 8.29 (+0.46); this is followed by Central America, with a score of 7.81 (+0.37), and the Caribbean, with a score of 6.77 (+0.15). The cocaine market is also assessed as having significant influence in 33 of the 35 countries on the continent. Of these, Colombia has the most pervasive cocaine market in the world, with a score of 9.50, closely followed by Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Peru (all scoring 9.0). The extent of the continent’s cocaine trade has meant little room for the heroin trade (3.06) to proliferate.

Alongside the expansion of the cocaine market in the Americas, there has been significant growth in the synthetic drug trade. With an average score of 7.0 (+0.75), North America is the third most affected region globally in this regard. Within the continent, Mexico appears to be most affected by this market, achieving a score of 9.0. In 2022, Mexico stood out as a major player in the synthetic drug trade, witnessing a rise in the popularity and production of ketamine, methamphetamine and fentanyl. While Mexico clearly came under the spotlight, other countries in the region also experienced a surge in their synthetic drug markets. The rise of the hallucinogen ‘pink cocaine’ in Venezuela, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama showcases the growth of synthetic drug use and distribution beyond Mexico.27

Environmental crimes are also prevalent in the Americas, with South America ranking second globally for non-renewable resource crimes, achieving an average score of 6.58 (+0.20). Illegal gold mining is a major concern on the continent, with organized criminals heavily involved in several countries – most notably Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama and Peru – exploiting the high prices of gold globally. These criminals are also embroiled in other illicit markets in the region, including human trafficking and financial crimes.28

Central America ranked third globally for both flora and fauna crimes, with average scores of 5.88 (+0.13) and 6.13 (+0.25) for these markets respectively. Brazil ranked first on the continent in these two markets, with scores of 8.50 for each, and has emerged as a significant source of illicit fauna in particular. These high scores are in part explained by the prevalence of illegal logging and wildlife trafficking in Brazil, especially in the Amazon region, which has caused severe environmental degradation and provoked violence perpetrated by criminal actors engaged in such activities, often targeting indigenous people, activists and public officials, which sometimes resulted in reported murders.

With regard to arms trafficking, Paraguay and Jamaica lead in the Americas, both with scores of 9.0 for this market. Brazil and Mexico each scored 8.50. Regionally, Central America ranked third in the world for arms trafficking, with a score of 6.50 (+0.25). The illegal arms that supply Central America originate predominantly in the US. Statistics reveal that between 70% and 90% of guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico can be traced back to the US, with drug cartels procuring weapons in Texas and Arizona and smuggling them across the border.29 This initial flow sets off a chain reaction, turning all countries in Central America into transit and destination points in the illicit arms trade, and fuelling violence and insecurity.

The 2023 iteration of the Index saw the addition of five criminal markets, all of which showed significant prevalence in the Americas. In terms of cyber-dependent crimes, North America ranked first in the world, with a score of 7.25. The FBI’s list of most wanted cybercriminals includes over 100 people and groups involved in committing harmful cybercrimes against the US government. Ransomware attacks have targeted local governments, universities, school districts and healthcare providers, resulting in data breaches and an increased demand for innovative cybersecurity solutions. In November 2022, malware spread across 55 counties in the US, leading to substantial data theft.30 A growing market that evolves with each technological advancement, cyber-dependent crimes have become an increasing risk with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Greater integration of AI is anticipated to significantly amplify the scope and complexity of cybercrimes, a challenge that stakeholders globally will have to work hard to navigate.31

Central America holds the top position globally for extortion and protection racketeering, scoring 6.38. The ability of criminals to instil fear and employ the threat of harm is what drives this particular market. Extortion and protection racketeering have long been used as both strategy and business model by organized crime groups.32 In many cases, victims who are unable to meet extortion demands are forced into displacement, increasing their vulnerability to other criminal markets, specifically human trafficking and smuggling. Across the Americas, these two criminal markets have a moderate influence on society, with an average continental score of 5.53 (+0.34) for human trafficking and 4.99 (+0.51) for human smuggling.

Mexico holds the top position in the Americas for both human trafficking and human smuggling, with respective scores of 8.0 and 9.0. The country is a crucial link between North America and the Central American states of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, for trafficking victims from across the region. Colombia closely follows Mexico, ranking second in the Americas for human trafficking (8.0) and human smuggling (7.50). The Darién Gap, a remote jungle region on the Colombia–Panama border, presents significant dangers to migrants heading for the US. These migrants, who originate primarily from Venezuela and other parts of South America, face significant physical hardship on this route, in addition to violence and the authoritative influence of criminal networks, such as the notorious Gulf Clan. Local and transnational networks facilitate the smuggling of migrants, with exploitation persisting along the route.33

The trade in counterfeit goods is another criminal market that is rampant in the Americas. South America’s average score of 6.25 puts the region second globally. Peru and Paraguay have the highest individual scores in the region (both 9.0), with the two countries assessed as major hotspots for counterfeit goods. In Peru, counterfeit activity is estimated to be worth millions of US dollars, with the proliferation of counterfeit healthcare products (including medicines) being a particular concern for authorities and society more broadly. Meanwhile, Ciudad del Este in Paraguay is a major centre for counterfeit goods, including clothing, shoes, watches, household appliances and perfumes. Criminal groups in Paraguay are notable in facilitating this illicit trade.

The illicit trade in excisable goods is the smallest of the five newly added markets in the Americas, with a relatively low continental score of 4.29. Paraguay is a significant hub for the illicit tobacco trade, both domestically and regionally. The tri-border area of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina is a bustling corridor for tobacco trafficking, which finances other criminal activities. Paraguay ranked highest in the Americas for this illicit market, scoring 7.50.

The market for financial crimes (5.98) is recognized as the most prevalent worldwide. In the Americas, the market scored an average of 5.39, with Mexico (8.50) and Guyana (8.50) ranking among the top 10 countries globally. Financial crimes in Mexico, for example, involve state institutions, private sector entities and individuals, with misappropriation of public funds, tax evasion and corruption presenting as major concerns. In Guyana, financial crimes feature both public and private actors and involve procurement fraud as well as Ponzi and pyramid schemes.

Figure 4.15

Criminal actor scores, Americas

Criminal actor scores, Americas

In terms of criminal actors, the Americas have the second highest average score globally (5.51) (Asia is ranked highest). Within this category, state-embedded actors attained the highest average (5.89), placing them in the third position globally, after Africa (7.12) and Asia (6.63). Criminal networks scored 5.77, followed by mafia-style groups (5.66) and foreign actors (5.53). Private sector actors ranked lowest among the criminal actors on the continent, with an average score of 4.70. These generally high average scores indicate that criminal actors have substantial authority in the Americas and that their reach is expanding. However, closer examination of the individual countries and regions reveals important distinctions that magnify the challenge of combating criminal actors on the continent.

It is noteworthy, for example, that 19 of the 35 countries in the Americas have scores of 6.0 or higher for the state-embedded actors indicator. Paraguay, Venezuela and Nicaragua stand out among these, each with a score of 9.0, suggesting that criminal actors have a concerning level of influence within society and state structures. This considerable leverage increases the risk that transnational anti-organized crime strategies, involving or implemented by these countries, may be limited or completely obstructed due to public decisions manipulated by these actors.

Criminal networks in the Americas play a prominent role on the world stage, with Colombia, Mexico and Peru ranking among the top five countries globally for this indicator. Colombia ranked first in the world for criminal networks (9.50), with an equal score for mafia-style groups. Venezuela is on par with Colombia on the mafia-style groups indicator, followed closely by Mexico (9.0), Honduras (8.50), Haiti (8.50) and El Salvador (8.50).

These criminal actors do not limit their operations to individual countries, however. Consequently, when considering foreign actors throughout the Americas, it is likely that criminal actors from Colombia, Mexico and Brazil are also significant players in the illicit landscapes of neighbouring countries.

Box 10 Primeiro Comando da Capital

Since the mid-2010s, the prominent Brazilian criminal organization Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) has exerted significant influence across the border in Paraguay, where it has dominated drug and arms trafficking markets. This has led to a surge in violence in the country, particularly due to attacks perpetrated by the group against the state, private sector and other highly armed criminal organizations. The cartel’s presence extends throughout Paraguay, with some operations taking place along the border with Brazil. The PCC’s expansion into neighbouring countries and its connections to international networks underline the group’s growing influence in South America.34 However, the cartel is particularly concentrated and violent in Paraguay. In this line, the PCC is partly behind the score for foreign actors in Paraguay (9.0) being greater than the scores for the rest of the continent.

Private sector actors play a significant role in the criminal landscape of the Americas as facilitators of organized crime. Notably, with a score of 8.50, Panama stands out as the tied top-ranked country worldwide for this type of criminal actor. Although the continent has an average score for private sector actors of only 4.70, the second lowest globally, Panama’s high ranking highlights Central America’s significance as a region where criminal activities are being perpetrated by private sector actors.

Figure 4.16

Resilience scores, Americas

Resilience scores, Americas

It is perhaps unsurprising that criminal actors embedded within the state are among the most influential in the Americas. And this can be seen in the continent’s resilience scores. For example, the continent has the third lowest global score for the ‘government transparency and accountability’ indicator, with an average of 4.44. Looking at individual countries, only Uruguay’s score is within the threshold of high effectiveness (9.0), where government transparency is promoted, as are independent anti-corruption bodies. Elsewhere on the continent, obstacles to achieving transparency and accountability, such as ineffective implementation of the relevant legislations, absence of independent anti-corruption bodies or disregard for the rule of law, heighten the risk of institutional corruption.

Corruption is especially damaging within the justice and security sectors, where criminal actors may evade detection through bribery or resort to manipulating judicial outcomes through biased decision-making. This can involve covert negotiations or even acts of violence, as exemplified by the assassination of Marcelo Pecci, a Paraguayan prosecutor who specialized in combating organized crime.35 Such incidents not only erode citizens’ trust in the security forces but also underscore the prevailing sense of impunity among criminal actors on the continent. The average score of 4.20 in the Americas for the ‘judicial system and detention’ indicator is deeply concerning and demands urgent attention alongside addressing transparency and accountability.

‘International cooperation’ achieved the highest score in the Americas among all the resilience indicators, with an average of 6.09. This average is negatively affected by poor performances from Haiti (3.0), Nicaragua (2.0) and Venezuela (1.50), which also occupy the bottom three positions in terms of overall resilience scores on the continent. Yet it is in these countries that international cooperation is most needed. For example, the international community has been vital in addressing gang violence and the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, with the UN Security Council establishing a new sanctions regime targeting criminal groups and their financiers in October 2022.36 This highlights the global recognition of the need for collaborative efforts to address complex challenges and restore stability on the continent.

While resilience does not depend solely on international cooperation, the interconnected nature of global challenges, such as organized crime, necessitates cooperation among nations to effectively manage the problem. As a result, ‘international cooperation’ not only holds immense significance for all of the countries on the continent but it is also a key resilience factor worldwide, with a global average score of 5.87, the highest of all the resilience indicators.

The role of international cooperation varies among the countries of the Americas, yet it is widely acknowledged that in most countries, non-state actors are better able to champion transformative change when supported by the international community. The average score in the Americas for ‘non-state actors’ was 5.10, the third highest globally. But this should not create a false sense of achievement. While there are many examples of the resilience of non-state actors in the Americas, it is concerning to acknowledge the numerous instances that highlight their vulnerabilities and limitations and illustrate the violence faced by civil society. An example of this is the killing of 126 human rights defenders in 2022, which has been condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The alarming number of killings of human rights defenders in 2022 reflects the ongoing challenges faced by non-state actors on the continent, particularly in Brazil and Colombia.37

It is imperative that any strategy aimed at combating organized crime in the Americas prioritizes the protection of civil society members to ensure their safety and effectiveness in countering criminal activities. Despite the high average score for this resilience indicator, there remains a substantial amount of work to be done to guarantee the protection of non-state actors, who play a crucial role as strategic allies in the fight against organized crime.

The scores revealed in the ‘anti-money laundering’ indicator can be viewed as overly optimistic considering the high criminality scores in the Americas. Argentina took the lead with a score of 7.0, closely followed by Uruguay, the US, Chile, and Trinidad and Tobago, each scoring 6.50. The average of 4.54 in the Americas strikes a balance between this perceived optimism and the acknowledgment that there is significant room for improvement. However, the higher risk lies within countries where there is either a non-existent framework or where extreme ineffectiveness prevails in combating money laundering. This is evident in the cases of Paraguay, Nicaragua, Haiti, Venezuela, Suriname and Belize, all of which scored below 3.0 for this resilience indicator. These countries need to make a substantial effort to strengthen their frameworks and increase their effectiveness in tackling this pernicious issue.

Efforts to enhance resilience frameworks require strong political leadership. However, with a low global average score for the ‘political leadership and governance’ indicator (4.70), it is clear that this is, in fact, a universal shortcoming. In the Americas, this indicator scored slightly below the global average at 4.69. At the regional level, North America had the highest average score for ‘political leadership and governance’ (6.75), followed by the Caribbean (5.23), South America (4.42) and Central America (3.69). These low regional scores, especially in Latin America, imply that constraints on leadership and governance in the Americas could be limiting the potential of some of the other resilience indicators.

Regional variations in overall resilience scores are evident within the Americas. Canada (7.21) and the US (7.13) both achieved scores higher than 6.0, producing an average score of 7.17 for North America and placing this region among the top five strongest globally. Conversely, Central America’s average score of 3.91 further underscores the regional need to strengthen anti-organized crime frameworks. South America gained an average resilience score of 4.72, just below the Caribbean’s average of 5.06. These regional scores cannot be viewed in isolation, however, as low resilience in one region can be exploited by criminal actors with influence in other regions. Illicit markets flourish in environments with weak foundations for combating organized crime, exploiting vulnerabilities that transcend regions. The weakness of one region can potentially jeopardize the success and resilience of others.

The reasons for the regional variations are multifaceted and serve as a motivation for engaging in deeper dialogue on the nature of organized crime in the Americas. In the Caribbean and Central America, for example, ‘international cooperation’ (with scores of 6.23 and 5.19, respectively) and ‘national policies and laws’ (5.85 and 4.63) achieved the highest scores of all the resilience indicators, while ‘judicial system and detention’ (4.31 and 3.50) and ‘victim and witness support’ (4.23 and 3.50) had the lowest averages. This indicates that criminal justice systems in these regions are at high risk of influence from state-embedded actors, which may affect the kinds of national policies and laws that are drafted and approved.

Within South America, ‘international cooperation’ emerged as the top-scoring resilience indicator (6.13), closely followed by ‘non-state actors’ (5.38) and ‘national policies and laws’ (4.96). Uruguay stood out among the countries in this region for its high overall resilience score of 7.50, while Venezuela came in at the lower end, with a score of 1.88. The wide range of individual scores on the resilience spectrum between Uruguay and Venezuela are indicative of the different anti-organized crime dynamics at play in each country in the region. Future actions for South America to strengthen resilience should ideally make use of international cooperation, while leveraging the resolute determination of non-state actors, and their capability to call for the effective implementation of national policies and laws.

Variations since the 2021 Index

Comparisons with the 2021 Index show that criminality in the Americas has worsened at the same time as resilience has suffered. The average criminality score for the Americas increased to 5.20 by 0.13 points since 2021, bringing the levels of criminality in the Americas more in line with those seen in Africa (5.25). While it is important to note that the average scores cannot be directly compared because of the addition of four new criminal markets, looking at individual country scores reveals a consistent upward trend in criminality for almost every country on the continent.

Figure 4.17

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Americas

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Americas

Criminal markets

A comparison between the scores of criminal markets in the Americas from 2021 to 2023 reveals deterioration across all markets. Ecuador stands out as the country with the most significant increase in criminal market scores, with a difference of +0.80, when taking into account only the existing 10 criminal markets. Another country that experienced a significant increase is Chile (+0.75). While Chile’s situation may not yet be comparable to that of Mexico and Colombia, the country is showing alarming parallels in terms of practices associated with organized crime. For example, signs of territorial control by criminal gangs have been observed, as have phenomena not previously common in the country, such as ‘narco’ funerals.38

Box 11 Ecuador – a state in flux

In the span of only two years, Ecuador witnessed a significant increase in criminality levels (+0.82), and now ranks among the 10 most organized-crime-ridden countries globally.

These numbers are indicative of a complex and more violent criminal ecosystem driven by empowered mafia-style groups and local criminal networks, which, along with foreign actors, are involved in numerous criminal markets.

One market in particular is worth highlighting – the cocaine trade (+1.50). Having a large stake in it, Colombian criminal groups have pushed the coca crops and cocaine production in the porous border region between Ecuador and Colombia. Combined with Ecuador’s weak counter-narcotics and security capacities in port cities, this has allowed criminal organizations to traffic drugs to European markets, in collaboration with Balkan and Mexican criminal cartels, which have deepened their influence over the criminal landscape in Ecuador.

Similarly, the criminal governance that mafia-style groups exert in cities like Guayaquil and the need for provision of service for violence by criminal networks to ensure that drug exports are functional have created a demand for arms. This has also had a direct impact on homicides rates, which have risen to historic levels. Additionally, Ecuador has experienced a steady increase in illegal gold mining since 2000, a criminal market that generates both violence and environmental harm in the rural areas of the Amazon region.

Against this backdrop, the country’s resilience saw the third largest decrease globally (−0.83). This is arguably a result of weak political leadership, widespread corruption and a weak judicial system that struggles to cope with the challenges, including the unpunished killings of political figures.

Criminal actors

The influence of criminal actors in the Americas continues to develop, presenting a growing challenge to the region’s security and stability. A comparative analysis made between the scores from 2021 and 2023, without taking into consideration the newly added private sector actors, reveals a trend: all indicators related to criminal actors experienced an increase of more than 0.20. Criminal networks had the greatest increase (+0.31), followed by foreign actors (+0.29). This upward trend is telling of the escalating impact of organized crime in the Americas.

Looking at the individual country scores, several countries in the Americas experienced notable increases in criminality levels, specifically Ecuador, Paraguay and Haiti. In Ecuador, for example, local gangs play a prominent role in the drug trade, often fuelling violent conflicts as they compete for control over drug routes. Adding to the complexity of the situation, Mexican cartels such as Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation have established a strong presence in Ecuador. Criminal groups from Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, Russia and Serbia have also infiltrated the country, with their primary involvement being in the drug trafficking markets.39 In Haiti, around 200 gangs operate with influence over a substantial portion of the country, and nearly 100 of them are concentrated in the capital, Port-au-Prince.40


Figure 4.18

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Americas

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Americas

In 2021, the Americas scored 4.83 for overall resilience, ranking third in the world. In the 2023 iteration of the Index, this score decreased to 4.80 (−0.03), while still ensuring third place for the continent. Even though the average change is minimal, when examining individual scores, it becomes evident that some countries experienced a significant decreases in resilience levels, among them Ecuador and El Salvador. Ecuador’s resilience score dropped from 5.71 to 4.88 (−0.83) and El Salvador’s from 3.71 to 3.21 (−0.50).

In Ecuador, various circumstances have led to declines in nine of the 12 resilience indicators. The lack of leadership under Guillermo Lasso has resulted in a political stalemate and a loss of public support for the government, while corruption cases involving the president’s inner circle have further eroded the public’s trust in state institutions. The judicial system is seen as lacking independence and facilitating crime, while the dysfunctional prison system has led to increased violence and gang conflicts within the penitentiary system, which is exacerbated by the growing control exerted by prisoners over the system. Additionally, regulatory control over NGOs and limitations on press freedom are hindering the efforts of civil society members and journalists in certain parts of the country.

Like Ecuador, El Salvador’s battle against organized crime is hampered by corruption. Moreover, the government’s approach to combating criminality, which relies on an ‘iron fist’ policy, raises concerns about the state’s commitment to democratic principles and respect for human rights. In fact, serious allegations of human rights violations have been raised due to the suspension of certain principal rights, as part of the anti-organized crime policy, including freedom of expression and association, as well as several due process guarantees. Civil society organizations play a crucial role in supporting victims and advocating for democratic principles and human rights in El Salvador, but they face regular harassment and intimidation. Overall, El Salvador’s ability to combat organized crime is challenged by systemic issues within the state apparatus and the need for greater respect for human rights by the government. Significantly, criminal influence over legitimate markets and the discretionary and uneven application of commercial regulations are negatively affecting the country’s economic growth.

Box 12 Threatened civil society and media in the Americas

The freedom with which civil society and the media are able to carry out their work has been significantly curtailed in the Americas in the past two years. There has been a notable increase in violence towards journalists and activists on the continent, particularly those covering organized crime and environmental issues. The June 2022 murder of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, who were investigating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Amazon, is illustrative of the dangers faced by activists on the front line.41 Killings such as these point to the lack of capacity, or sometimes even unwillingness, of state authorities to protect non-state actors. Security concerns have meant a reluctance among investigative journalists and activists to address significant organized crime-related issues in the region. This hesitancy adversely affects media freedom and plurality in the media landscape, which has become apparent under the 2023 Index, especially in South America, which experienced a significant decrease in the ‘non-state actors’ score from 5.96 to 5.38 (−0.58), since 2021.

Argentina, Nicaragua and Guatemala also experienced significant decreases in their respective resilience scores. Guatemala’s score declined from 4.42 to 4.08 (−0.34), Nicaragua’s from 2.46 to 2.08 (−0.38) and Argentina’s from 6.33 to 5.96 (−0.37). In Argentina, the government has been accused of lacking transparency in procurement processes, and there are concerns about the influence of drug-trafficking money on local politics. The judicial system is considered corrupt and inefficient, while poor prison conditions and allegations of police collusion with criminals have exacerbated the decline in resilience. In Guatemala, attacks on prosecutors and judges investigating corruption and organized crime have increased, while press freedom is increasingly compromised, with a growing number of attacks on journalists and limited government support for independent media. As in El Salvador, human rights violations, including attacks on activists, are a growing concern in Guatemala. This escalating trend of repression is also present in Nicaragua, where, in 2022, legislature passed a resolution that resulted in the shutdown of over 30 civil society organizations. These closures add to the growing list of over 130 organizations that have been declared illegal in the country, further stifling independent voices and limiting avenues for advocacy and community development.42

Some countries in the Americas may only have small differences between their 2021 and 2023 resilience scores, but are worth highlighting for their low and declining scores. Haiti and Venezuela, for instance, have maintained low resilience scores, with no signs of improvement in 2023. Haiti’s overall score decreased from 2.67 to 2.46 (−0.21), while Venezuela’s went down from 1.92 to 1.88 (−0.04). This path of decline will not only affect these individual countries but could also have consequences for the entire continent, providing fertile ground for the development and dominance of organized crime groups. The other countries in the Americas should keep a close eye on these two nations and develop strategies to reverse this downward trend.

When comparing resilience in the Americas, it is evident that there have been declines in several key areas. Out of the 12 indicators, eight have shown decreases. One of the most significant differences is for the ‘non-state actors’ indicator, which recorded average scores of 5.31 in 2021 and 5.10 in 2023 (−0.21). This change highlights the diminishing capacity of non-state actors to address criminality challenges on the continent.

The ‘law enforcement’ indicator also experienced a notable negative change in 2023, particularly in South America. In 2021, the average score for this indicator in the subregion was 4.54, but it dropped to 4.0 in 2023 (−0.54). A continuing decline in law enforcement results in a greater loss of trust, as agencies struggle to address security challenges and uphold the rule of law. This erosion of public trust leads to reduced cooperation, decreased crime reporting and a breakdown in community–police relations, all of which have proven to be essential in enhancing community resilience to organized crime.

An important increase worth highlighting, however, is the resilience score for the US. In the 2021 Index, the average score for resilience in the US was 6.58, which rose to 7.13 in 2023 (+0.55). This positive change can be attributed to regulatory changes in environmental protections and immigration policies, the establishment of the US Council on Transnational Organized Crime,43 sanctions imposed on foreign nationals engaged in drug trafficking, and increased international cooperation efforts (including extradition treaties related to cybercrime).

While the comparison of the two sets of resilience scores in the Americas may not be encouraging, it presents an opportunity for countries to reflect on the decisions they have made, evaluate what has and has not worked in the fight against organized crime, and identify main areas for improvement. By addressing some of these challenges and implementing more effective strategies, the countries in the Americas can strive for higher levels of resilience in the long term.



Figure 4.19

Index scores, Europe

Index scores, Europe

In 2022, while Europe was beginning to address the social, political and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine generated serious new concerns for the continent’s stability, with potentially lasting implications for the global order. The war fast altered Europe’s security landscape, exposing the continent to novel and multidimensional threats. It is difficult to accurately assess the extent to which the conflict will reshape regional dynamics, given that the war is ongoing at the time of writing and the situation on the ground constantly evolving. However, some effects are currently being felt, especially at regional and subregional levels, and Ukraine’s destabilization has already had significant implications for organized crime across the continent.44

The changes to organized crime dynamics catalyzed by the war in Ukraine have been partly captured in the 2023 Index. Although the Index was built during a particularly mercurial phase, it manages to take into account the most evident and tangible trends emerging from the conflict, particularly those related to the trafficking of people, arms, drugs and illicit goods, often linked to the occupied territories in the country. However, while the conflict in Ukraine has affected illicit flows on the continent, other developments tracked by the Index appear to be detached from the war. And despite an overall increase in levels of criminality, Europe is still one of the continents least affected by organized crime (with a criminality score of 4.74, higher only than Oceania). This is mainly the result of stable and robust anti-crime frameworks, with criminal organizations finding fewer opportunities to expand their operations, mitigating in part the damaging impact of illicit economies on the continent. Europe also continues to lead in resilience globally, with an overall score of 6.27, far above the global average of 4.81.

Figure 4.20

Criminal market scores, Europe

Criminal market scores, Europe

The Index found that, once again and in line with global trends, criminal actors in Europe (4.88) are still more prominent than criminal markets (4.60), pulling up the continent’s average criminality score. However, this higher average can also be attributed to some of the newly added criminal market indicators, two of which are reported to be particularly pervasive in Europe – namely, financial crimes (6.24) and cyber-dependent crimes (5.58).

Financial crime is the most pervasive market on the continent, with Europe ranking second in the world after Asia. Alongside traditional forms of white-collar crime, many countries in Europe are increasingly faced with innovative financial crimes facilitated by digital technologies, of which phishing is a prime example. The high technological and economic development of most European countries offers opportunities for cyber-enabled financial crimes to thrive. These illicit markets were aided by the COVID-19 pandemic, when rates of digitalization accelerated as many professional and personal activities moved online.45 Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe were identified as the highest scoring regions in this regard, both with 6.50 for financial crimes. In Western Europe, the pervasiveness of illicit financial activities appears to be mainly driven by a small group of countries with highly developed economies and advanced democracies – the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland, all with a score of 7.50 for financial crimes. By contrast, the financial crime markets in Central and Eastern Europe are concentrated in countries characterized by levels of authoritarianism and corrupt state actors, including Russia (8.50), Belarus (8.0) and Moldova (8.0). This supports the idea that financial crimes, and other illicit economies, do not necessarily arise within a particular national context, but rather are truly transnational phenomena, constantly adapting to take advantage of the vulnerabilities that accompany globalization, digitalization and growing geopolitical tensions.

As the second highest scoring market after financial crimes, cyber-dependent crimes are very prevalent throughout Europe, which ranked first in the world for this market. Most ransomware attacks are directed at ‘big game’ targets, including major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure. Highly sophisticated cyberattacks are being perpetrated in Europe, often by cybercriminals operating from both within and outside the continent. Cyber-warfare has also been used during the conflict in Ukraine not only for ideological reasons but also for financial gain, with perpetrators frequently backed by state actors. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Central and Eastern Europe is the highest scoring region on the continent for cyber-dependent crimes (6.0), with Russia’s score (9.0) driving up the regional average, followed by Ukraine (8.50).

Another market that is highly pervasive on the continent is the cocaine trade (5.20). Cocaine is still the main source of revenue for a number of organized crime groups operating in Europe, and the continent continues to host a major consumer market for this drug, especially in countries in Western and Southern Europe, which scored 5.77 and 5.38, respectively. Western Europe is also among the top five highest scoring regions for the cocaine trade globally. These substantial scores reflect the increasing role played by main cocaine trafficking hubs in the EU, the majority of which are located in key gateway states in Western and Southern Europe, with Belgium (8.0) and the Netherlands (7.50), and Spain (7.50) and Italy (8.0) topping the list. Besides having developed large domestic consumer markets, these countries are also important transit corridors for the trafficking of cocaine, owing to the centrality of their ports, where drugs are often concealed in legal shipments.

Box 13 Infiltration of European ports by organized crime groups

Europe’s ports have come under stress from illicit flows in recent years with organized crime groups leveraging their reliable infrastructure and connectivity to smuggle high volumes of illicit goods, particularly drugs. As vital gateways for the transportation of legitimate goods domestically and internationally, European ports handle millions of containers annually. And the sheer volume of incoming containers, combined with complex operational structures, makes illicit activity difficult to detect. In fact, European port authorities are only able to physically inspect between 2% and 10% of incoming containers,46 which means that these ports are suitable playgrounds for smuggling activities. Additionally, the ports’ extensive connectivity, enabling access to a host of global destinations, enhances the appeal for organized crime groups eager to expand their operations and maximize profits. Most of the major European maritime ports, including Antwerp in Belgium, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Hamburg/Bremerhaven in Germany, Le Havre in France and Piraeus in Greece have increasingly grappled with this challenge in recent years.

Organized crime groups use European ports as major entry points on the continent for a broad spectrum of illicit commodities, ranging from illegal substances such as cocaine, heroin and synthetic drug precursors to illicit tobacco products and counterfeit goods. Even though international organized crime groups mostly rely on cooperation with local criminal networks and corrupt port officials, they are also increasingly using more sophisticated modus operandi, including the misappropriation of container references. This enables criminal groups to carry out their activities without having to rely too heavily on corruption. The increased level of criminal activities occurring in maritime hubs and rivalries between organized crime groups have also resulted in a higher levels of street violence, adversely affecting local communities.

Record cocaine seizures have been reported all across Europe in the last two years, as seen in the interdiction of 10 tonnes in Le Havre in 2021 and more than ten times that amount in Antwerp in 2022.47 In fact, it is estimated that around 200 tonnes of cocaine have been smuggled through the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp since 2021, illustrating the sheer magnitude of the problem.48

Increased volumes of cocaine seizures combined with growing violence and stable street prices indicate that Antwerp has emerged as the primary gateway for cocaine trafficking in Europe. Criminal actors involved in drug trafficking are increasingly choosing Antwerp, Europe’s second biggest port, as their primary hub, especially since the improvement of port security in the Netherlands. It is estimated that nearly 40% of Europe’s cocaine imports reach the continent through Antwerp.49

China’s continuous investment in European ports as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, including Piraeus, Le Havre and Antwerp, has contributed to enhanced trade and operational efficiency at these ports.50 However, the increase in the volume of container traffic has meant higher levels of illicit activity. In addition, increased trans-shipment with ports in Asia and the Middle East has made European ports more susceptible to smuggling activities.51

The impact of drug markets in Europe is also seen in the high scores for the cannabis trade (5.20, at the same level as cocaine) and the synthetic drug trade (5.16, just below the previous two markets). At the regional level, Northern Europe, despite being the lowest scoring region in Europe for criminal markets overall, ranks second highest on the continent for the synthetic drug trade (5.25), with five of the eight countries achieving scores of 5.0 or above. Of all the drug markets, only the heroin trade was assessed to be not particularly pervasive on the continent, with a comparatively low score of 4.35.

Europe is also significantly afflicted by other markets, including human smuggling (5.14) and human trafficking (5.13). As in the 2021 Index, Central and Eastern Europe was identified as the highest scoring region in Europe for both markets (6.06 and 5.79, respectively). Compared to other illicit economies, human smuggling and human trafficking are considered to be more far-reaching and dispersed across the continent, mainly due to lax border controls and well-connected trafficking and smuggling routes. The severity of the situation has been increased by the significant number of refugees fleeing instability outside of the continent, but also linked to the Ukraine war, who are at risk of exploitation by organized crime groups.

Other moderately prevalent illicit economies in Europe include the illicit trade in excisable goods (4.41) and the trade in counterfeit goods (4.28). Countries in Western Europe are important transit and destination markets for counterfeit goods (with a regional average score of 4.59), with articles ranging from luxury products to everyday items increasingly trafficked to the region, mainly from China. The illicit trade in excisable goods is more rampant in Central and Eastern Europe (5.03), compared to the rest of the continent, driven by high demand and low prices, especially for tobacco products. Cigarette smuggling, often facilitated by corruption of border police officers, is widespread in Moldova (7.50), Montenegro (7.50) and Romania (6.0).

The least pervasive criminal markets in Europe are extortion and protection racketeering (3.70) and the three environmental crime markets: non-renewable resource crimes (3.58), fauna crimes (3.44) and flora crimes (3.02). These last three indicators, despite having all increased slightly since 2021, score substantially below the global averages.

Figure 4.21

Criminal actor scores, Europe

Criminal actor scores, Europe

In terms of criminal actors, the dominant typology in Europe is foreign actors (5.58), which, unlike many other continents and in contrast to global trends, scored higher than state-embedded actors (4.67). Globally, only Africa scored higher than Europe for this actor type.

In second place, as in the 2021 Index, are criminal networks (5.27), followed by private sector actors (4.86). Europe ranked second in the world for private sector actors, after Asia, which is perhaps unsurprising given that some countries in the region are key money laundering and tax evasion hubs facilitated by criminals acting in the private sector. In particular, Southern Europe was identified as the region with the greatest presence of private sector actors (5.50). This result reflects the role that a few small but notable countries, such as Malta (6.0) and San Marino (5.50), play as attractive environments for money to be laundered through the formal financial sector.

The two least pervasive criminal actor types on the continent are state-embedded actors (4.67) and mafia-style groups (4.02), the latter, however, scoring higher in Europe than in Africa and Oceania. Mafia-style groups are assessed to be unequally distributed among the regions, with powerful groups identified in several countries in Southern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. However, Northern Europe in fact ranks first on the continent for mafia-style groups (4.25), despite having the lowest scores for all other criminal actor types. Within this region, Denmark (5.50) and Sweden (5.0) are considerably affected by the activities of smaller biker gangs, characterized by clan-based structures and engaged in a range of illicit activities. Swedish authorities have also noted a rise in fatal gang violence driven by the drug trade and associated proliferation of illegal firearms, particularly in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.52

Figure 4.22

Resilience scores, Europe

Resilience scores, Europe

Europe ranked first in the world for overall resilience (6.27), with particularly high scores for ‘international cooperation’ (7.24), ‘national policies and laws’ (6.85) and ‘territorial integrity’ (6.48). By contrast, Europe’s lower-scoring resilience indicators include ‘victim and witness support’ (6.03), ‘anti-money laundering’ (5.83) and ‘government transparency and accountability’ (5.82). Although these indicators are Europe’s worst performing, their scores are nevertheless higher than the averages for the other continents.

At the regional level, despite contextual differences, the picture is again positive, with all regions in Europe included among the top 10 most resilient globally. Most noteworthy here is Northern Europe, which achieved an overall resilience score of 7.89. Significantly, no country in Northern Europe scored below 6.0 for any of the Index resilience indicators. The region leads the way in ‘international cooperation’ and ‘national policies and laws’, while at the same time, performing particularly well in areas where other European regions struggled, including ‘non-state actors’ and ‘victim and witness support’.

Ranking high globally, but with lower overall resilience scores than the three other European regions, is Central and Eastern Europe. With an average score of 5.01, Central and Eastern Europe ranked 10th of all the regional groupings worldwide, just below the Caribbean. Several countries in Central and Eastern Europe have been assessed as sufficiently effective in their resilience mechanisms, but many others appear to be largely unprepared and defenceless against the multifaceted threat posed by organized crime. Major shortcomings in governments’ abilities to act transparently and provide a supportive space to civil society organizations are hampering the fight against criminality.

Variations since the 2021 Index

Given the drastic events that occurred in Europe in 2022, the continent experienced the largest increase overall in terms of criminality at the global level (+0.26). By breaking down the criminality component, a major shift was observed in the pervasiveness of criminal markets, which recorded an increase of 0.40, counterbalanced by a more modest rise in the score for criminal actors (+0.12). This considerable upsurge in the score for criminal markets is both methodological and geopolitical in origin, a consequence of the new criminal markets included in the 2023 Index (with financial crimes and cyber-dependent crimes particularly pervasive in Europe) and the war in Ukraine. The effect of the Ukraine conflict on illicit economies becomes clearer when considering which markets increased the most and in which parts of the continent.

Figure 4.23

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Europe

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Europe

Criminal markets

The three criminal markets that saw the largest increases in Europe were human smuggling (+0.42), the synthetic drug trade (+0.40), arms trafficking (+0.38) and the cocaine trade (+0.38).

Human smuggling proliferated in Central and Eastern Europe (+0.47) as a result of conflict and fragility in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Yet human smuggling also increased, and by slightly more, in Northern Europe (+0.50), with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania driving up the score. The war in Ukraine precipitated the swiftest and largest refugee migration in Europe since the Second World War, with around 7.8 million Ukrainian refugees as of November 2022. The chaos of humanitarian operations in the first few months of the conflict made Ukrainians potentially vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers and smugglers, although evidence of widespread smuggling of Ukrainians has remained very limited. Additionally, conscription in both Russia and Ukraine created an unprecedented wave of migration to bordering countries, including Moldova, Romania, Poland and Hungary. Smugglers of other commodities, such as alcohol and tobacco, took advantage of the demand for movement, reportedly switching to conscript smuggling, while people with no criminal backgrounds began to set up sophisticated smuggling schemes.53

A Belgian Malinois dog inspects crates of bananas at Antwerp port.

Central and Eastern Europe saw the biggest increase in the synthetic drug trade on the continent (+0.44), with the production and distribution of these drugs continuing across the region despite disruptions and displacement. The growth in this drug market was fuelled by demand from the front line of the Ukraine war, as was the case for the illicit arms trade, with arms trafficking seeing the largest increase of all criminal markets both across the continent and within the region (+0.86). Although the number of documented instances of cross-border arms trafficking appears to be quite low, authorities in Moldova, for example, have reported a significant increase in weapons seizures at the Ukrainian border since the start of the war.

Finally, with regard to the cocaine trade, even though Southern Europe is not the highest scoring region on the continent for this criminal market (ranking second after Western Europe), it is the region that recorded the largest increase from 2021 (+0.63). Italy (8.0), Spain (7.50) and Portugal (6.0) account for the highest number of cocaine seizures on the continent, being main entry points and key hubs for the drug’s distribution. Significantly, Greece, which has not traditionally been associated with cocaine trafficking or consumption, saw a noticeable increase in its score for the cocaine trade (moving from 3.50 to 5.0), indicating that points of shipments are diversifying and consumer markets developing.

While almost all of Europe’s criminal markets have increased in prevalence since the 2021 Index, the heroin trade in fact saw a marginal decline (−0.01). This is likely to be a consequence of the growth of other drug markets, specifically cocaine and synthetic drugs.

Criminal actors

In line with global trends, foreign criminal actors witnessed the largest average score increase of all criminal actors in Europe, from 5.38 to 5.58 (+0.20). As in other regions, it is likely that this is a consequence of the easing of COVID-related restrictions, including the reopening of borders. Criminal networks saw the second largest growth (+0.11), followed by mafia-style groups (+0.10) and state-embedded actors (+0.09). At the regional level, Northern Europe experienced the greatest increases for foreign actors and criminal networks, despite still having the lowest scores on the continent for both.


Figure 4.24

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Europe

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Europe

Europe not only achieved the highest resilience score globally, but it is also one of three continents, together with Oceania and Africa, that recorded a slight increase in average resilience in 2023 (+0.04). As with the other two continents, ‘international cooperation’ experienced the largest increase (+0.22), followed by ‘national policies and laws’ (+0.15) and ‘prevention’ (+0.14). At the other end of the spectrum, four indicators declined across the continent, with the greatest reduction perhaps unsurprisingly for ‘territorial integrity’ (−0.09), followed by ‘non-state actors’ (−0.08), ‘economic regulatory capacity’ (−0.03) and ‘victim and witness support’ (−0.01).

With a few notable exceptions, the overall changes in the scores for resilience indicators in European countries were minimal, with the average resilience score for the continent on par with 2021 levels. There were also no major changes at the regional level, as all four regions maintained the same positions they held in 2021: Northern Europe ranking first for resilience, followed by Western Europe, Southern Europe, and then Central and Eastern Europe. One caveat here is the fact that national resilience frameworks are generally slow to respond to global events, such as the war in Ukraine. The effects of current events on structural resilience dynamics may therefore only be seen in the years to come. Nevertheless, the 2023 Index did reveal some differences in resilience levels, with modest increases in the scores for Northern Europe (+0.08), Southern Europe (+0.07), and Central and Eastern Europe (+0.04), and a slight, almost negligible, decline for Western Europe (−0.01).



Figure 4.25

Index scores, Oceania

Index scores, Oceania

At first glance, Oceania may look like the global outlier in terms of its results. With overall criminality scores well below the world’s average and resilience surpassing all other regions barring Europe, this might be true in absolute terms. However, a closer examination reveals a more complex picture. And this does not simply derive from the heterogeneous nature of Pacific societies, the unique, isolated marine topography of the continent and the varying levels of economic and technological development and related vulnerabilities. The region is also an arena for geopolitical and geo-strategic competition that plays out in Oceania’s political, economic and security spheres, and this has implications for governance and corruption, law enforcement and societal vulnerabilities to crime, and its broader repercussions. These dynamics unfold against the alarming regional impacts of climate change, which threaten all aspects of life, and influence illicit markets and governments’ ability, and sometimes willingness, to counter crime.

With the exception of Papua New Guinea, which is characterized by high levels of criminality, the other 13 countries in Oceania recorded low criminality scores. Whereas this is an accurate assessment with regard to certain criminal markets and countries, these results are also influenced by the structure of the Index, whereby countries featuring a larger number of criminal markets – which is not the case for many Pacific island countries, and to some extent New Zealand – obtain higher overall scores. This is not to say, however, that countries in the region do not feature pervasive and pernicious criminal markets that are perpetuated by a diverse range of domestic and foreign actors.

Figure 4.26

Criminal market scores, Oceania

Criminal market scores, Oceania

Fauna crimes (5.25), financial crimes (4.64) and human trafficking (3.96) are the three highest scoring markets in Oceania. Indeed, at 6.20, the region of Micronesia has one of the highest scores for fauna crimes worldwide. Specifically, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, particularly of tuna, is the most significant and widespread form of organized crime in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. The vast fishing grounds of the Pacific and the extensive exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the region make the detection of usually Asian fleets and so-called ‘blue boats’ (wooden boats from South-eastern Asia) an enormous challenge for local authorities.

Fish is one of the most abundant natural resources in the region and a crucial revenue stream for governments and individuals. The growth of IUU fishing undermines economic and food security among Pacific populations. In addition, the fishing industry is also linked to various forms of human exploitation, and indeed human trafficking of fishermen as well as of women and girls who are often forced into sex work for clients in the fishing industry.

Flora crimes in Melanesia were found to be among the highest scoring globally, with Papua New Guinea (8.50) and the Solomon Islands (8.0) leading the way. This illicit market is primarily associated with illegal logging. More than half of the timber logged illegally here is destined for Asian consumer markets.

Papua New Guinea is also home to Oceania’s highest scoring criminal market: financial crimes (9.0). The ‘resource curse’ that is often associated with parts of Africa manifests itself in the Melanesian country in the logging and mining sectors. The presence of vast natural resources in a context of high levels corruption has left the country open to mismanagement of public funds and multi-million-dollar frauds, with revenue from illicit activities often laundered through domestic and Australian property investments.

With Australia and New Zealand being among the most lucrative consumer markets in the world for drugs, it is no surprise that Pacific island countries have become transit hubs for narcotics originating in South-eastern Asia and Latin America. The high price of cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin make them for the most part inaccessible to Pacific islanders. However, larger countries such as Fiji have experienced the emergence of domestic consumer markets and local production of methamphetamines in recent years. This also applies to Tonga, which is currently experiencing an epidemic of methamphetamine use. Indeed, the synthetic drug trade (7.50) is by far the highest scoring market in the Polynesian kingdom.

Figure 4.27

Criminal actor scores, Oceania

Criminal actor scores, Oceania

Taking the region as a whole, no criminal actors in Oceania scored higher than 4.50, suggesting a moderate actor influence. Notably, and this mirrors other regions of the world while confirming the results of the 2021 Index, foreign actors were the highest scoring category (4.29). This was followed by criminal networks (3.86) and state-embedded actors (3.43).

Looking beyond regional averages, significant differences exist and Melanesia hosts by far the most influential criminal actors. This applies particularly for Papua New Guinea, which scores the highest for state-embedded actors, at 8.50, and the Solomon Islands, which is also plagued by grand corruption and where state-embedded actors (7.0) enable foreign actors (6.50) – who are engaged in illicit activities in the fishing, logging and gambling sectors – as well as local private sector actors (6.50). Alarmingly, revenues are known to be used to finance political campaigns, hence influencing the democratic process. Foreign groups (7.0) also play an influential role in Tonga’s criminal landscape, especially South and North American cartels trading cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as Asian syndicates.

Figure 4.28

Resilience scores, Oceania

Resilience scores, Oceania

At 5.55, Oceania has the second highest continental score for resilience (Europe scored 6.27). In terms of the continent’s averages, ‘national policies and laws’ (6.39), ‘international cooperation’ (6.21) and ‘law enforcement’ (5.96) are the strongest indicators; the areas of ‘victim and witness support’ (4.46), ‘prevention’ (4.71) and ‘economic regulatory capacity’ (4.89) are the most lacking.

The relatively high overall continental score for resilience is to be attributed to the high scores assigned to Australia’s resilience indicators, ranging between 6.0 for ‘victim and witness support’ and ‘prevention’, and 9.0 for ‘international cooperation’. New Zealand’s resilience also weights the continent’s overall scores. New Zealand scored 6.50 for ‘anti-money laundering’ and 8.50 for ‘international cooperation’, ‘territorial integrity’ and ‘non-state actors’ – suggesting that all resilience measures are, at a minimum, ‘sufficiently’ effective. In keeping with the previous Index iteration, Papua New Guinea remains the least resilient country in Oceania, with no indicator scoring higher than 5.50.

Variations since the 2021 Index

The research and analysis confirmed some existing trends but also brought to the fore some changing dynamics. Criminality scores increased in 10 of the 14 Oceania countries, while resilience deteriorated in five. Of those, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu exhibited both higher criminality and lower resilience scores. Overall, however, resilience was 0.1 point higher across the continent than the 2021 results, while criminality increased from 3.07 to 3.23.

Figure 4.29

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Oceania

Criminality trends by country, 2021–2023, Oceania

Criminal markets

Three markets exhibited the largest increases. The first is the cocaine trade (+0.50), followed by the cannabis trade (+0.39) and fauna crimes (+0.32). Unsurprisingly given the earlier discussion on narcotics, some of the largest score increases were in Australia and New Zealand (+1.5 for cocaine in both). Cannabis markets registered increases in Fiji, New Zealand, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Samoa (all +1.0), alongside smaller increases elsewhere, confirming cannabis as the most widely produced and consumed on the continent. Fauna crimes increased notably in the Marshall Islands (from 6.50 to 7.50) driven by the trafficking of protected species and IUU fishing. The latter has also driven higher scores (+0.50) in other parts of Micronesia, including Palau and Nauru, where fish stock is one of the key natural resources – and in some cases the principal resource and the most lucrative – as well as in Vanuatu and Australia.

A market that declined in prevalence and impact were human smuggling, which fell by 0.11 points (from 2.40 to 2.29).

Criminal actors

With a 0.29 point increase, state-embedded actors exhibited the most significant growth in influence in Oceania in 2023. Variations across countries are nevertheless relevant. Whereas in some countries the influence of these actors remains of limited significance, in others, like in Papua New Guinea, the impact of criminality is directly embedded within the political class and law enforcement. Here the involvement of these state actors in organized criminality and corruption is widespread. On the other hand, the influence of mafia-style groups appears to be declining across Oceania, albeit marginally (−0.07). The exceptions are Australia and New Zealand where mafias retain ‘moderate’ influence, but, for the most part, they are virtually non-existent.


Figure 4.30

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Oceania

Resilience trends by country, 2021–2023, Oceania

Resilience levels in Oceania increased marginally from an average of 5.45 to 5.55. Differences from one country to another are striking and reflect the continuing capacity gaps with which Pacific island countries have to contend. At one end of the spectrum is Palau, where overall resilience increased from 4.54 to 5.33 as a result of improved scores across multiple indicators. Resilience in the Marshall Islands has also seen some improvements, with the national average growing from 5.04 to 5.79.

At the other end of the spectrum are traditionally highly resilient countries that are now exhibiting diminished resilience. Australia is down from 7.96 to 7.38, and New Zealand from 8.38 to 7.88. However, these scores indicate that both retain sufficiently effective resilience measures. Among the most marked changes, ‘territorial integrity’ in Australia decreased from 9.0 to 7.50, and ‘non-state actors’ from 8.0 to 6.50. These sharp variations can be attributed to the vulnerabilities brought about by the reopening of borders after the pandemic and the fragile state of press freedom, a by-product of the ultra-concentration of media ownership in the country and attempts by the government to control the information made public by the media. In New Zealand, the most concerning score variation is the decrease from 8.0 to 6.50 for anti-money laundering, which highlights the country’s growing role as a conduit for the laundering of illicit financial flows and reflects glaring government deficiencies in addressing the issue.

  1. See, for example, on Iraq and the UAE (which score, respectively, 9.0 and 9.50): Suadad al-Salhy, Iraq’s ‘theft of the century’: How $2.5bn in public money ‘evaporated’, Middle East Eye, 21 November 2022,
    ; Matthew Kupfer and Eiliv Frich Flydal, Dubai uncovered: Data leak exposes how criminals, officials, and sanctioned politicians poured money into Dubai real estate, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, 3 May 2022,
    ; ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies, Is Dubai a home for dirty money? Regulatory reform in the United Arab Emirates, 17 April 2022,

  2. Under the Index thresholds, a score of 10.0 on the criminality scale signifies that ‘the illicit market has an extremely negative influence on all parts of society; it is the most profitable income source within the country and dominates the country’s economy’. 

  3. The ‘narco-state’ definition was mentioned in a 2021 report by the Centre for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), which focuses on Syria. See COAR, The Syrian economy at war: Captagon, hashish, and the Syrian narco-state, 27 April 2021,

  4. Laura Adal and Sarah Fares, The plant at the root of Iran’s meth market, GI-TOC, 9 June 2023,

  5. Yogita Limaye, Inside the Taliban’s war on drugs - opium poppy crops slashed, BBC, 6 June 2023,

  6. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Afghan poppy cultivation jumps despite Taliban crackdown, 4 May 2023,

  7. Carolyn Cowan, Myanmar wildlife trade remains opaque, despite focus on border hubs, Mongabay, 7 July 2022,

  8. Middle East Eye, Lebanon: World Bank describes country’s finances as damaging Ponzi scheme, 3 August 2022,

  9. Tessa Wong, Bui Thu and Lok Lee, Cambodia scams: Lured and trapped into slavery in South East Asia, BBC, 21 September 2022,

  10. See, for example, this 2021 report published by the Turkish customs authority:

  11. Alessandro Ford, Turkey: Cocaine hub between Europe and the Middle East, InSight Crime, 29 June 2022,

  12. Adam Pourahmadi and Abbas Al Lawati, Saudi Arabia is becoming the drug capital of the Middle East, CNN, 2 September 2022,

  13. Al Jazeera, Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan, Pakistan closed, 20 February 2023,

  14. Marcena Hunter and Gideon Ofosu-Peasah, Organized crime threatens green minerals, GI-TOC, 14 December 2022,

  15. John Sai Luu, Analysis: Myanmar’s gemstone riches bring poverty and environmental destruction, Mongabay, 25 April 2022,

  16. Richard C Paddock, Myanmar’s coup and its aftermath, explained, The New York Times, 9 December 2022,

  17. Priscilla A Clapp and Jason Tower, Two years of Myanmar’s junta: Regional instability, surging organized crime, United States Institute of Peace, 1 February 2023,

  18. Julia Stanyard, Thierry Vircoulon and Julian Rademeyer, The grey zone: Russia’s military, mercenary and criminal engagement in Africa, GI-TOC, February 2023,

  19. BBC News Tigrinya, Eritrea’s mass mobilisation amid Ethiopia civil war, 16 September 2022,

  20. Jason Burke, Gangs of cybercriminals are expanding across Africa, investigators say, The Guardian, 27 November 2022,

  21. ENACT, Illicit flows of explosives in Central Africa, March 2023,

  22. Julia Stanyard, Thierry Vircoulon and Julian Rademeyer, The grey zone: Russia’s military, mercenary and criminal engagement in Africa, GI-TOC, February 2023,

  23. Olwethu Majola and Darren Brookbanks, Measuring the treatment: The UNTOC in Africa, ENACT, June 2023,

  24. Ibid. 

  25. Jason Eligh, A powder storm: The cocaine markets of East and Southern Africa, GI‑TOC, December 2022,

  26. Diane E Davis and Tina Hilgers, The pandemic and organized crime in urban Latin America: New sovereignty arrangements or business as usual?, Journal of Illicit Economies and Development, 4, 3 (2022),

  27. Steven Dudley and Jeremy McDermott, GameChangers 2022: ‘Pink cocaine,’ cross-border battles, and the frustrating fight against mafia states, InSight Crime, 22 December 2022,

  28. INTERPOL, The devastating impact of illegal gold mining in Latin America, 28 April 2022,

  29. Liz Mineo, Stopping toxic flow of guns from U.S. to Mexico, The Harvard Gazette, 18 February 2022,

  30. Sangfor Technologies, Recent cyber-attacks of 2022: The pandemic of cybercrime, 8 March 2023,

  31. Ryan Morrison, How AI will extend the scale and sophistication of cybercrime, TechMonitor, 20 July 2022,

  32. GI-TOC, Supporting victims of extortion in the community: Highlighting the work of resilience Fellows in ten countries,

  33. Andrés Cajiao, Paula Tobo and Mariana Botero Restrepo, On the border: The Gulf clan, irregular migration and organized crime in Darién, GI-TOC, November 2022,

  34. Laurence Blair, ‘The PCC are after me’: the drug cartel with Paraguay in its clutches, The Guardian, 23 June 2022,

  35. BBC News Mundo, Quién era Marcelo Pecci, el fiscal contra el crimen organizado de Paraguay que mataron en Colombia en su luna de miel, 11 May 2022,

  36. Summer Walker, New sanctions target Haiti gangsters, GI-TOC, 26 October 2022

  37. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 2022 was a violent year for the defense of human rights in the Americas, IACHR says, 21 February 2023,

  38. Rocío Montes, Una quincena de colegios chilenos suspende sus clases ante los riesgos de un funeral narco en Valparaíso, El País, 21 March 2023,

  39. Julieta Pelcastre, Narcotrafficking increases violence in Ecuador, Diálogo Américas, 11 January 2023,

  40. GI-TOC, Gangs of Haiti: Expansion, power and an escalating crisis, October 2022,

  41. Cécile Andrzejewski, Journalist Dom Phillips wanted to save the Amazon, he was killed for investigating illegal fishing, Le Monde, 1 June 2023,

  42. Global Witness, As democracy continues to deteriorate in Nicaragua, Indigenous peoples pay the price, 24 March 2022,

  43. The White House, Executive Order on Establishing the United States Council on Transnational Organized Crime, 15 December 2021,

  44. United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, The conflict in Ukraine and its impact on organized crime and security, November 2022,

  45. INTERPOL, Financial and cybercrimes top global police concerns, says new INTERPOL report, 19 October 2022,

  46. Europol and the Security Steering Committee of the ports of Antwerp, Hamburg/Bremerhaven and Rotterdam, Criminal networks in EU ports: Risks and challenges for law enforcement, 30 March 2023, https://www.europol.europa.

  47. Alessandro Ford, Le Havre cocaine bust marks French port’s prominence in pipeline to Europe, InSight Crime, 4 May 2022,; Wilhelmine Preussen, Record amount of cocaine seized in Antwerp in 2022, Politico, 10 January 2023, https://www.politico

  48. Europol and the Security Steering Committee of the ports of Antwerp, Hamburg/Bremerhaven and Rotterdam, Criminal networks in EU ports: Risks and challenges for law enforcement, 30 March 2023,

  49. Jennifer Rankin, Outrage over girl’s ‘drug war’ death as Belgium’s cocaine haul breaks records, The Guardian, 10 January 2023,

  50. Karin Smit Jacobs, Chinese strategic interests in European ports, European Parliamentary Research Service, 28 February 2023,

  51. Ruggero Scaturro and Walter Kemp, Portholes: Exploring the maritime Balkan routes, GI-TOC, July 2022,

  52. Erin Drake, From bad to worse? The organised crime landscape in 2023, S-RM, 2 February 2023,

  53. GI-TOC, New front lines: Organized criminal economies in Ukraine in 2022, February 2023,